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Behind the Scenes: Portland Opera's 'Madame Butterfly'

In 1904, the world saw its first performance of Madame Butterfly when it premiered in Milan, Italy. According to its composer Giacomo Puccini, it was a disaster. Puccini then reworked the script for a second opening later that same year, and with those revisions, it was poised to become the classic, visually stunning, dramatic story that opera critics have celebrated for well over a century.

Roger Honeywell sings the role of Pinkerton.

Ifanyi Bell / OPB

Mezzo-Soprano Kathryn Day sings the role of Susuki.

Ifanyi Bell / OPB

Madame Butterfly is the story of American naval officer B. F. Pinkerton who, while stationed in Japan, takes Madame Butterfly, or Cio-Cio San, as his “temporary” Japanese wife, only to divorce her when he finds an American bride. Cio-Cio San takes the marriage seriously and is devoutly awaiting Pinkerton’s return to Japan. When he arrives with “bad news,” it results in one of the most intense climaxes in all of opera. 

The Portland Opera began its relationship with the production during its 2005-06 season. The Opera connected with stage director Christian Smith, who worked under Frank Corsaro during the New York City Opera‘s 1966-97 run. For Smith, that was the beginning of a long and intimate relationship with the production that continues this year with Portland Opera’s first staging since 2005 at the Keller Auditorium. Since the 1966-67 season, Smith has directed Butterfly 22 times.

This will be Christian Smith's 22nd production of "Madame Butterfly," his second in Portland since 2005.

Greg Boone / OPB

At 81 years old, Smith’s energy and enthusiasm for the production doesn’t seem to have waned — not even slightly. 

“I’m so excited — This has been a real treat,” he remarked before the dress rehearsal. 

Not only is Smith’s connection to this opera deep, but the Portland Opera itself is a part of the Butterfly story. As of this production, the Portland Opera is now in possession of the original costumes and sets that were designed at The New York City Opera. This means that other opera houses will negotiate with the Portland Opera to use these original elements in their own stagings. 

The Portland Opera’s production of Madame Butterfly opens tonight at the Keller Auditorium with additional performances on February 5, 9, and 11. 


Click on “View Gallery” in the right sidebar to see photos taken at the Madame Butterfly dress rehearsal.

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